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Why the Tampa Bay Rays are opening the season in cold, wintry Boston

BOSTON — The hope is that they can play late this afternoon, when the 24 hours of rain should finally be over, the winds are in the 15-20 mph range and temperatures are headed to the low 30s.

But at least the Rays and Red Sox have a chance to get the game in, as opposed to Monday, when promised rains turned America's Most Beloved Ballpark into Boston's Soggy Mess. The raw, wintry conditions washed out the highly anticipated season opener and highlighted the question of why the teams were here rather than in St. Petersburg, where Tropicana Field sat vacant, dry and, at 72 degrees, incredibly more comfortable.

"Opening-day weather delays can't be avoided in all cases," Rays president Matt Silverman said, "but we're one of the cases where it can."

The Rays made the best of it (with an aborted wet workout) and made light of it, joking about the oddness and irony of the situation, the first of their 12 season openers to be postponed.

"I know the weather's really good at Tropicana Field today," manager Joe Maddon said. "It's kind of difficult to understand whereas we have a building with a roof on it and we're like a couple hours from where we just completed spring training and so are they, and we have to come up here to do this. That's the part that's a little bit confusing."

"There's absolutely no logic to it," veteran reliever Troy Percival said. "That's all I can go with. I don't know that they have a reason for anything. I think they throw it into a computer and you get spit out."

Basically, the Rays and Red Sox were playing in Boston because that's how Major League Baseball scheduled it, a complicated and, yes, computerized process that even the executive in charge of it, senior vice president Katy Feeney, admits is "an imperfect system to say the least.''

"I know it doesn't make logical sense to have a domed stadium and you don't open there,'' she said.

Several factors are involved. And none have to do with any privilege, or lack thereof, from being the American League champs, since the schedule is first drafted in June and July, refined and released in September. "Well before we knew who was going to go where in the postseason," Feeney said.

The Rays requested to open at home, a product of the spring training move to Port Charlotte. In prior years they wanted to open on the road after spending all spring in St. Petersburg.

But other teams also want to open at home, and only seven AL teams can. "Not every club can get what they request, and sometimes clubs' requests conflict with each other," Feeney said. "It's a schedule for 30 teams, not one or two. And it's a balancing act to fill it out."

Also, MLB officials expected the weather in the Northeast and Midwest to be better with the season starting a week later than usual (because of the World Baseball Classic). There is a rotation of opponents, and sites, to be factored in. The requests of other teams at other times of the season impact matchups.

The process is not totally random, Feeney said, and after the computer generates a schedule, there can be some "human manipulation."

But what can look like simple solutions, such as swapping the opening series in Boston with the April 30-May 3 series at the Trop, are also complicated.

Doing that, for example, would further extend a rigorous April 21-29 road trip to Seattle, Oakland and Minnesota; give the Rays two days at home in a 24-day period; cost them one of their few marquee weekend series; and require further adjustment because it's trading a three-game series for a four — and because the Rays are scheduled to be back in Boston May 8-10.

"If it was 50 and sunny there today, nobody would be saying anything,'' Feeney said.

The good news Monday was that the decision came early, around 10 a.m., even if Red Sox president Larry Lucchino did ramble on in a statement about their fans getting the "full experience" of "this unofficial Red Sox Nation holiday."

Maddon said they figured the game wouldn't be played, and "I'd much prefer that we wait given the circumstances. … As opposed to battling through inclement weather, I'd rather do it this way."

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

Today's forecast
for Boston

Mostly sunny, high 48. South winds 20 mph. Chance of evening rain. More weather, 8C

Times

Why the Tampa Bay Rays are opening the season in cold, wintry Boston 04/06/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 7, 2009 8:09am]

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